When fairy godmothers are men : Dickens's gendered use of fairy tales as a form of narrative control in Bleak House
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This paper explores how Charles Dickens’s use of a female narrator in Bleak House (1853) fundamentally problematizes and undermines his use of the fairy tale’s cultural cachet, motifs, and characters to prop up and project his fantasies of the feminine ideal. More specifically, it examines the effects of the thematic presence of several tale-types and stock fairy tale figures on Dickens’s ability to prescribe ideal feminine behaviors, such as incuriosity and selfless obedience, to both his characters and his female audience. Because Esther’s ability to write and her interest in either discovering or constructing her own identity establish her as competitor to the males who attempt to script her life, Dickens tries to control and circumscribe her ability to know and act through her own and other characters’ resemblance to traditional fairy tale character types, especially Bluebeard and Griselda. Esther’s narrative, however, betrays these unnatural delimitations in telltale interruptions and denials as Dickens attempts to circumvent the constraints he has placed on her voice. Esther’s narrative therefore resists but imperfectly overcomes the Victorian male author’s scripting of femininity.